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Le Drian in Delhi again as India dithers over Rafale deal

media Rafales at Dassault's factory in Merignac, south-east France Reuters/Benoit Tessier

France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian met his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar in Delhi on Tuesday in a fresh attempt to seal a troubled deal to sell India’s air force 126 Rafale fighter jets.

Talks on the Rafale deal have dragged on since 2012 and France is hoping to salvage it ahead of a visit to Paris by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April.

Dassault Aviation hopes to supply 18 fighters later this year while the remaining 108 would be made by state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd under technology transfer agreements with India.

When Le Drian visited Delhi in December the Indian defence ministry said obstacles "would be resolved in a fast-track manner".

But the government has commissioned a report about the project’s cost and Parrikar said last week that he had asked the responsible committee to speed up its work “for us to take a decision on the acquisition of Rafale”.

According to Indian magazine Business Standard, the committee has concluded that the Rafale is more expensive than its chief competitor, Eurofighter’s Typhoon.

Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government, which was elected last May, wants to end India's status as the world's number one defence importer and to have 70 percent of hardware manufactured domestically by the turn of the decade.

Last week France signed an agreement with Egypt for the first foreign sale of its Rafale fighters, which it hopes will prompt others to buy the state-of-the-art combat jet.

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